About Sriram Iyer
Sriram Iyer is a Human Resources practitioner, a Certified Strengths Coach, and a passionate #hrtech advocate. Based in Singapore since Jan 2012, he is now the Founder & CEO of HRTech Market Development & Analyst firm, hrtech.sg. Apart from working with enterprises in identifying the best technology solutions for their talent-related needs, hrtech.sg also hosts Singapore’s largest and curated HR Tech-focused marketplace with its presence in over 85 niche solution providers.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Sriram today to our interview series. I’m Paras Segal from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of PeopleHum - peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.
Welcome, Sriram. We’re thrilled to have you.
Thank you very much. Paras. Thanks for having me over for peopleHum’s discussion.
So the first question I had for you today Sriram was can you tell us a little bit about your journey that brought you to HR Tech?
Sure, Paras. Just a quick overview. With about 20 years of corporate experience and managing large cross border talent initiators in the domains of strategic workforce planning, running talent acquisition, employee engagement, and employer branding, I noticed that most departments in an organization were adopting technology in a really big way and automating their processes. But sadly, in a lot of organizations, the HR functions still remain very transaction-oriented. They don't have a seat in the decision-making table and they're not adopting a digital mindset, not automating their processes as much as they should be.
That was actually the trigger about a couple of years back when I decided to set up hrtech.sg, which is, as you mentioned, a boutique market development and analyst firm, and we focus on accelerating the adoption of HR Technology or HR Tech by enterprise HR teams.
Now, I've been very closely associated with the HR tech task force of the Institute of Human Resource professionals in Singapore. One of our key focus areas is to constantly look at newer ways and avenues of accelerating the adoption of this digital mindset by HR teams and that’s why hrtech.sg worked with Adrian Tan and for the second year in a row, we are the co-creators of the Singapore hrtech Market Map, which provides an overview of 160 plus solution providers across eight human resource domains.
On the hrtech.sg platform, we're very happy that in less than a year we have onboarded over 85 niche HR tech solution providers and any HR professional or practitioner, when they come out to the marketplace, they would be able to identify a solution that best meets their requirements.
Wow, that's great. That's great to hear.
The second question I had for you, Sriram was like from your experience, what are the most important features that organizations are looking for in HR tech nowadays?
So when we do webinars or have discussions with the HR practitioners, a common question that keeps popping up now is when will things be back to work as usual? When will things go back to the old normal? As Jason Averbook says, this is going to be the next normal and the Covid-19 Pandemic actually has become the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime.
You know, this has significantly changed and will change even more the way attract and hire talent, the way we work, where we work, how our work is going to be measured? How do we communicate, and manage teams? How do we price our jobs? How do we measure productivity and how do we reward employees? All of these aspects will be changed forever, Paras.
From business models to people strategy, the way work, things are going to be radically different on the other side of the crisis. The key aspect of the new normal will be remote work.
As we speak, teams of all sizes in every corner of the world are getting a crash course in remote work. Companies that have never even dreamt of doing remote work are experimenting on it now and not so successfully I should say, but they have a lot of learning from it. HR Teams are looking for features today in HR tech solutions that will enable them to hire, onboard, manage, engage, and retain a remote workforce. That's going to be one critical aspect that everyone's looking at.
The other aspect is that right from Josh Bersin to every leading HR analyst is talking about the experience economy and the faster we realize that we're in the experience economy, HR teams should start looking for features in this solution that would enable them to provide individualized and engaging experiences for the candidates and employees. So that's a quick summary of the key features that organizations are looking for in HR Tech.
Very rightly said. Sometimes it takes a crisis to get those transformation efforts to go into. Absolutely. So it's all those times which will definitely bring a lot of changes. Thank you for those details.
So the next question I had for you, Sriram was like, Do you think that HR tech Service providers have to be aware of the cultural differences while providing services?
Very pertinent question, Paras. Different strategies for different markets, that’s the mantra that every HR tech solution provider should have in mind.
"Different strategies for different markets, that’s the mantra that every HR tech solution provider should have in mind."
Solution providers what we see, and as mentioned earlier, we focus on the Singapore talent marketplace. Solution providers, when they enter Singapore, for example, they have a one size fits all approach, which is not the right thing. They should definitely be cognizant of the local cultural aspects, especially while entering a new market or a new country.
Take, for example, right if you look at the recruitment technology space asking for details like the gender, date of birth, national ID number might not be the right thing to ask in many countries. So if you try to implement what’s applicable in one country into a new market, it’s going to backfire. So the system needs to factor those local cultural nuances accordingly.
Take another example. If you take AI-based video interviews or AI-based employee coaching tools that are available, it is important to train your AI bots, to ensure the local communication and speech aspects are valued and incorporated in their functionality. Otherwise again, this is going to backfire.
Well, it's also not just countries and markets, Paras, even between two organizations in the same industry, probably within the same market, the transformation journeys are very, very different and you need to look at the cultural aspects of each of these organizations very keenly before embarking on selling a product to them.
Yeah, you rightly said that. You can’t like, force generic solutions to everyone. Thank you, Sriram.
So the next question is just building onto the previous question. How important does culture play in the adoption and implementation of HR Tech?
When we do these consulting engagements with enterprises, most HR teams always start with an HR tech product already in their mind and they try to force-fit it in the organization. We keep reminding them that that's not the way to go about it. They need to start with the problem that they are trying to solve, not start with the solution and that's part of the digital HR journey.
"HR teams need to start with the problem that they are trying to solve, not start with the solution and that's part of the digital HR journey."
We need to rethink the entire HR value proposition with regard to their employees, their stakeholders, and their organization culture, I mean what works for some companies will not work for others.
The inherent cultural element of a company really plays a major part in the success of an HR transformation journey or in the success of the implementation of an HR technology product. A key element of the entire journey, Paras, is a strong change management plan that should be incorporated in the road map.
But if you look at most implementations that we have seen, the change management aspect is not given enough importance by HR teams, which creates the implementation to completely become a failure. So I think that clearly shows that culture is going to be an important aspect in the adoption and in the implementation of any HR tech solution.
Got it. That makes a lot of sense.
The next question I had for you Sriram was How do you think we should integrate the features to complement the growing trends of remote working?
As mentioned in one of your earlier questions, Covid-19 is definitely going to be an accelerator in ensuring that we move to the new normal where remote working is going to be a key norm. Today, the HR tech solution providers need to help managers remotely engage and work with their team members. And at the same time, they need to provide a seamless experience to the employees also.
"Today, the HR tech solution providers need to help managers remotely engage and work with their team members. And at the same time, they need to provide a seamless experience to the employees too."
I mean, let me validate it with some examples, right? If you look at hiring, for example, the HR tech solution, because you cannot ask candidates to come over to your office for a face to face meeting. How do you do remote hiring, enabling mass phone screening or screening of profiles using bots?
Gig workers and freelancers are going to play a really important part. Are there tools that will help identify and hire such gig workers and freelancers for every specific market? Take performance management, for example, the HR tech providers in the performance management space, they need to help the managers have structured daily check-ins with the team members. They should help in continuous performance management.
Gone are the days when you could do a performance appraisal once in three months or once a year, we need to now have a continuous performance management process with well defined KPIs and OKRs. Companies are reaching out and saying how do we measure productivity? Earlier we could come to the office and we could do that. Now we are unable to do that. So performance management is going to be an important aspect and such solution providers need to have all these factors incorporated.
Take employee engagement, the solution providers need to provide technology communication options to managers beyond just emails. How do I reach out and how do I have a 1 to 1 connect if required, a face to face connect and measure employee engagement and have constant pulse servicing. Employee engagement is going to be critical, especially when you are in a remote working environment.
Finally, the most important thing I would say is employee wellness. Earlier people weren’t focusing on it and a lot of organizations did not accord too much importance to it. Today we see a lot of focus on employees' well being both physical and mental. So solution providers who are in the employee wellness space are seeing increased traction of their services.
So these are some of the elements in a day to day, working relationship between a manager and employees, of an HR team and their stakeholders, where the HR Technology solutions are going to play a key part.
Basically, I could get your point. So you’re saying that every touchpoint that a company has with its employees, be it performance, hiring, wellness, every one of those touchpoints will be needed to be aided by solutions that can enhance that experience, work in a remote environment.
Bang on. That’s perfect summarisation, Paras.
And the next question I had for you Sriram was how would you advise the HR Tech Companies of Today to invest in collaboration and partnerships given this period of the pandemic?
If you look at the hrtech.sg marketplace, as I mentioned, we have over 85 solution providers on the market place across HRMS, Talent acquisition, talent development, talent engagement, talent operations, and total reward space. Now when someone's entering a new market such as in Singapore, we encourage all the service providers to collaborate with probably other non competing providers who were already in the marketplace. This will ensure that you won’t you don't have to invest additional costs in customization if the client is looking for additional solutions.
So you are able to support the client by going in a joint go to market approach. This is going to be very, very important and I definitely value the question you have asked. This is going to be really important in the coming days, the coming years, especially in Southeast Asia because making inroads into newer customers is only going to be through strong partnerships and alliances.
"Making inroads into newer customers is only going to be through strong partnerships and alliances."
Do think Sriram, it has already started happening. And if you have some examples, or is it still far away to happen?
We’ve seen a lot of that starting to happen. At least the discussions have started happening. So if there is a job board, they are talking to online video interview service providers to see if they can integrate the solution and go to market. An HRMS solution that probably does not have a local payroll option is tying up with someone who has the local payroll functionality, to go jointly together.
We are increasingly seeing such aspects happening. At least the talks have started happening. I am sure more of the alliances will happen in the coming days.
Got it. But what you're trying to refer to is one integrated approach, but different solutions can collaborate together for an organization.
That's right. That's right. From the end client perspective, he or she is probably looking at one integrated solution, and if that is provided by two or three service providers who come together, the clients are definitely agreeable to that approach. It is gonna be difficult for the service providers to invest additional dollars at this point in time, given the current scenario in any product enhancements or customization. I am sure the clients are not too keen to pay for it.
So the last question I had you for you Sriram is any important sound bites you would like to leave our audience with?
I’d probably keep re-iterating, re-emphasizing this on every occasion, probably I have already mentioned this in this discussion too. The leadership team, the business teams are going to ask a human resource function to deliver more with less, and in fact, they're doing it with all the other functions.
So in such a scenario for the HR teams, adoption of technology is going to be inevitable. Hence, they should accelerate the adoption of a digital mindset amongst all the team members, that's going to be really imperative. Companies, which have HR teams that were very transaction centric and did not use technology, will now be forced to adopt it.
The second part, again I had highlighted it. HR teams should start with the problem they're trying to solve, not start with the solution as part of the digital HR transformation journey. We need to completely re-look at the entire process, system, their value proposition and design the new system accordingly.
And finally, we are in the experience economy. There is going to be a lot of pressure on HR teams to provide individualized, engaging experiences for both the candidates and employees. And that again can happen only with the adoption of technology.
Probably these three are my key takeaways for HR teams: Adopt Digital Mindset. Second start with the problem, not the solution. We are in the experience economy. We need technology to provide an individualized and engaging experience.
"Adopt a digital mindset. Start with the problem, not the solution. We are in the experience economy so we need technology to provide an individualized and engaging experience."
I had the wonderful pleasure of talking to you Sriram. I really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us. It's been an enriching and learning experience for me personally and will surely be for our viewers too. Let's keep in touch and have a safe and healthy time ahead of us. Thank you so much for a time today.
Thank you very much Paras.